Every summer, my parents make their annual visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Ledyard, Connecticut to continue learning about the Pequot Indian tribe who lived in what is now the State of Connecticut. They are one of the many tribes that called North America home prior to the arrival of European settlers and the creation of the United States. Today, they can be found largely on reservations having been forced off of the only lands they knew to make way for a country that had liberated itself from British colonization. Far too often, their plight is ignored and history books have traditionally re-written the history of the foundation of the United States of America. This book by the late Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown (1908-2002) challenges everything we thought we knew about our country and the scores of people often referred to simply as “the Indians”.
Hollywood has played a large part in the historical view by many of the Native Americans, the enemies of White Cowboys as depicted in Westerns and other television programs of the past. John Wayne is admired by many as the icon of the American West. The Native Americans, considered to be savages, uncivilized and dangerous became the object of the wrath of bloodthirsty soldiers filled with an ideology that could classified as genocide today. The true story was carefully and deceptively hidden from public light but it has come out in more recent times. And as the Native Americans and Indians of the Caribbean are shown in a more positive light, more of the truth will come to the surface. Several cities here in America have now replaced the holiday of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus was only a small part of the story and he never set foot on North American soil. But the actions of the municipalities were for the right reasons and I believe in time, more cities will follow suit.
In the wake of the American Revolution, a new nation was born with the desire to obtain as much land as possible under the guise of “Manifest Destiny” and its actions changed the course of history and nearly exterminated the continent’s native inhabitants. I am sure you have heard many of the names that became legends; Tecumseh (1768-1813), Sitting Bull( 1831-1890), Geronimo (1829-1909), Crazy Horse (d. 1877) and Cochise (d.1874). These leaders are revered in Native American history but are only small parts of a much larger and deadlier picture. Their lives crossed paths with American soldiers whose names have become both famous and infamous such as Kit Carson (1869-1868) and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) whose last stand is sometimes fodder for situations in which a positive outcome is highly unlikely. The battles that took place across the plains of North America reveal a violent struggle as two opposing of forces sought to maintain their own ways of life. For the Native Americans, their goal was to live as they always had and not like the invaders who annexed territory and brought disease, starvation and death. For the American soldiers, the Indians were savages who needed to learn the White man’s way of life and give their hearts to Christianity. The two systems were never compatible but Washington refused to accept any deals that would preserve Native American land. The methods used to forcibly remove the natives are some of the darkest moments in American history.
It is imperative to keep in mind while reading the book that America did not yet have 50 states. In fact, the reader has to pay close attention to the location descriptions to form a picture of the region in which these events take place. In comparison to clearly marked state boundaries today, land then was sometimes loosely divided among tribes with recognized boundaries by each side. I do recommend having a map of Native American tribes while reading the book to gain a more accurate image. Brown also adds small bonuses at the beginning of each chapters as he highlights the most important events that occurred. Readers may find that they have bookmarked random facts that have nothing to do with the story at hand but are useful information to retain.
I warn the reader that the book is not always easy to read. The graphic descriptions of the atrocities committed in battle and the fate of the Native Americans are a rude awakening to any ideas about a graceful creation of America where the settlers and Indians worked side by side and everyone was friends. This is the unfiltered truth and to say it is ugly would be an understatement. Those of you who are of Native-American heritage will be familiar with the tragedies that befell your ancestors. For others, in particular Americans, this book is a chance to fully understand how violence played a crucial role in the development of what is now a superpower. We are unable to turn back the hands of time and change the course of history but what we can do moving forward is to acknowledge the tragic story of North America’s forgotten residents.
I firmly believe that this book, which was written in 1970, should be read by students in every history class across the country. These are the stories that you will not find in textbooks that seeks to portray the history of this nation in the most positive light possible. Interestingly, Native Americans are present in many of us today. Millions of American have their blood running through their veins. That heritage has sadly been forgotten or in some cases ignored. But it is never too late to learn about those who gave up so much so that we are able to enjoy the privileges afforded to us. Their lives have never been the same and their heritage was nearly destroyed. I hope that one day they too find the peace of mind that they have sought for so long. And the next time you think about wearing a Native American costume for a party, this book might make you think twice. This is the dark and ugly history of America and the mission to eradicate the Native Americans.